Britain needs a national cladding task force to end nightmare for hundreds of thousands of people - Greg Wright

WHEN the Grenfell Tower fire claimed the lives of more than 70 people in the summer of 2017, there was a national outpouring of grief and anger.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer during a visit to Albert House, Woolwich, London, which has cladding that since the Grenfell disaster has been deemed un-safe
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer during a visit to Albert House, Woolwich, London, which has cladding that since the Grenfell disaster has been deemed un-safe

It seemed incredible that people should die in such a terrible manner in a supposedly civilised country. Your home is supposed to be the place of greatest safety.

There were the inevitable cries of “never again” but, more than three and half years later, residents of buildings with flammable cladding say their lives are an “ongoing, unending nightmare” and they live in fear of being thrown out of their homes.

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Many say the cladding has made their flats worthless and they are unable to sell the properties. That’s why we need a nationwide taskforce to confront the cladding crisis once and for all. People will finally be able to sleep safely at night and faith will be restored in companies responsible for cladding large towers.

Labour’s demand for a national taskforce to “get a grip” on the cladding crisis was supported in the Commons by 263 votes to zero, although the Opposition’s motion does not compel ministers to act

Sir Keir Starmer said it was a “scandal” that tenants and leaseholders were being asked to “foot the bill” for interim safety measures.

Housing minister Chris Pincher said the Government will announce “very shortly” a financial solution to protect leaseholders from high costs to deal with unsafe cladding, but told MPs: “There is no quick fix.”

Evidence is mounting of the harm the scandal is inflicting on innocent people. Timea Szabo, 37, who lives in a flat with her son, said safety and security had been “ripped from us”.

“Your home is supposed to be your safe place, where you go and feel safe and shut the door and can relax,” she said, speaking to the PA news agency.

“We don’t have that any more, it’s not actually safe.

“I have to put my son to bed every night in a flat that is flammable to the point where we have to have a person walking around and checking for fires 24/7.

“The safety and security has been ripped from us and on top of that my financial security has been completely destroyed.

“My home is at risk, my life savings… are at risk and I don’t see a way out because the Government is not engaging with us. It’s an ongoing, unending nightmare.”

Ms Szabo said service charges for her home had risen from £260 to £450 per month, which was a “huge and unaffordable” increase.

“No one will buy (my flat), no one should buy it and I don’t want to try it because someone else will get trapped,” she said.

Labour pushed for a vote on a motion demanding the Government urgently establishes the extent of dangerous cladding and prioritises buildings according to risk.

Sir Keir said a national taskforce would “put some energy” into efforts to identify and address dangerous and at-risk buildings and he hoped the debate would be a “turning point.”

Mr Pincher said the Government “will not tolerate unnecessary delays” to remediation work.

He said that more than £1 billion had been allocated to improve the safety of buildings, adding: “We have to bring forward a solution that is right and proper, that demands of owners and developers that they put right the problems and defects they cause..

“We will work to restore the inalienable right for everyone in this country to live somewhere which is decent, which is secure and, above all, which is safe.”

The Labour Party claims that hundreds of thousands of people are trapped in unsafe, unsellable flats due to this scandal.

This is an issue that transcends party politics. There is much to be learned from the approach adopted in Australia where the authorities carried out an audit to establish the extent of dangerous materials on buildings, after a fire on a residential tower in Melbourne.

In Britain, there should be immediate funding to remove deadly cladding and strict deadlines must be set to make homes safe. Rogue builders must be exposed and the Government should work with lenders, to ensure residents can sell and remortgage. Only then can Britain start to emerge from the tragic shadow of Grenfell Tower.

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